Police put the brakes on new breed of old biker

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The Independent Online
Police have launched a campaign to save the lives of a new and potentially deadly breed of motorcyclist - not reckless youths but affluent middle- aged men on expensive superbikes.

Road safety experts are growing increasingly concerned by the emergence of what they call the "born-again bikers", older men whose children have grown up and well-off professionals looking for thrills.

Insurers have also identified the group and believe many once rode motorbikes and are returning after raising families. Others simply believe riding fast bikes is cool.

The trend was first spotted by Chief Inspector David Short of North Yorkshire traffic police. In his area, which is largely rural and criss-crossed with long country lanes where bikers race, there were 13 motorcycle deaths in 1995, three of which involved over-thirties. Last year, there were 17 deaths, 12 involving over-thirties. So far this year, there have been eight fatalities, seven of which involved over-thirties.

"In North Yorkshire, 90 per cent of fatal motorcycle accidents now involve bikers aged over 30 riding high-performance bikes," said Chief Inspector Short. "Many of them used to ride bikes years ago but they don't seem to realise that bikes have advanced so much over the past 20 years that today's machines bear little resemblance to what they were used to.

"They return to biking with a little more money in their pockets and buy bikes that are actually very similar to performance bikes used in racing. They simply go too fast, lose control and hit something." A top of the range high- performance bike costs around pounds 10,000 - half the price of a sports car.

Last month, Mr Short and representatives of 11 forces nationwide got together to launch Bikesafe 2000, a campaign which aims to educate born- again bikers using a network of dealers, police specialists and bike clubs.

Tim Thompson, editor of Ride magazine, is supporting the initiative. Readership research has shown the average age of his readers to be increasing and readers' average wages have now topped pounds 30,000 a year.

"We take readers away for weekends and it has been interesting to see the ages increase," said Mr Thompson. "You see these guys in leathers and then you realise there's a bit of a paunch under there. And then they take their crash helmets off and they're balding.

"The problem is that many of them have come back to bikes after driving cars and they `drive' their bikes rather than riding them. There's a subtle difference but it's about understanding your bike's capabilities and limitations. We're advocating some advanced riding lessons - one or two days close instruction can make all the difference. This needn't be a problem - fatalities are very very rare. And it can be great fun."

However, the trend is likely to result in increased insurance premiums for older bikers. Damian Keeling, managing director of Carole Nash insurance, Britain's largest intermediate insurer for bikers, said the days of lower premiums for mature people are numbered.

"We have 60,000 clients and our research has shown that bikers in the age group 30-60 are twice as likely to have an accident than bikers under 30," said Mr Keeling.

"In terms of life insurance and property insurance, the older age group is ideal and attracts bigger discounts and lower premiums.

"But as far as insurance goes to ride bikes, the assumption that more mature people are safer is having to be rethought and premiums are bound to rise as a result."